This study, Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition, looks at the question of whether there are political or socioeconomic factors that inhibit or facilitate the development of civil resistance movements committed to the democratic, nonviolent transformation of authoritarian societies.
An earlier study sponsored jointly by Freedom House and the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict found that an overwhelming number of transitions to democracy in the latter part of the twentieth century featured civil resistance, including strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts, and mass protests. That study, How Freedom Is Won, concluded that "bottom up" transitions far outnumbered those driven by political elites.
Enabling Environments for Civic Movements carries the original study a step further in laying out a case for what Peter Ackerman has called the primacy of skills over conditions in determining the outcome of a conflict driven by civil resistance.
Based largely on original research, Enabling Environments for Civic Movements concludes that neither the political nor environmental factors examined in the study had a statistically significant impact on the success or failure of civil resistance movements. Among the major implications of this finding is that civic movements are as likely to succeed in less developed, economically poor countries as in developed, affluent societies. The study also finds no significant evidence that ethnic or religious polarization has a major impact on the possibilities for the emergence of a cohesive civic opposition. Nor does regime type seem to have an important influence on the ability of civic movements to achieve broad support.
The one significant factor that does emerge is government centralization. The study suggests that high degrees of centralization correlate positively with the emergence of a robust civic movement with the potential to challenge regime authority. The reverse also appears to be true: the greater the degree of government decentralization, the less likely it is that a successful movement of civic mobilization will arise.
The study's most important policy conclusion is that the growth of strong civic movements committed to tactics of nonviolent resistance can play the key role in bringing about democratic transformations in authoritarian settings. Policies that contribute to the strength of movements of civic mobilization may make the difference in the struggle to replace dictatorship with a democratic order.